No, no, no!

In his guest-post, for which I thank him, Maxime St-Hilaire offers three critiques of the judgments that have upheld the constitutionality of Justice Mainville’s appointment to the Québec Court of Appeal ― that of the Québec Court of Appeal in Renvoi sur l’article 98 de la Loi constitutionnelle de 1867 (Dans l’affaire du), 2014 QCCA 2365, and that of the Supreme Court in Quebec (Attorney General) v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 22. None of these critiques persuade me.

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The first is that the two Courts were wrong to consider that the words “from the bar of [Québec],” which, in section 98 of the Constitution Act, 1867, define the pool of eligible appointees to the province’s superior courts, can ― as a purely textual matter ― extend to former members of the bar. This conclusion rests on an absence of any textual indication that the link with the bar must be current in the text (such as can, according to the Supreme Court’s majority’s opinion in l’Affaire Nadon, Reference re Supreme Court Act, ss. 5 and 62014 SCC 21, [2014] 1 S.C.R. 433, be inferred from the wording and interplay of ss. 5 and 6 of the Supreme Court Act). For prof. St-Hilaire, however, this conclusion is both “counter-intuitive” (my translation, here and throughout) and “arbitrary because it makes that which is specific and contingent into something general and essential.”

I simply do not see how this is the case. As Sébastien Grammond, who (brilliantly) represented the Canadian Association of Provincial Court Judges, pointed out at the Supreme Court hearing, one can be “from” somewhere even if one has not lived there for a long time. (And, I would add, even if one has moved any number of times since having lived there.) Similarly, one can meaningfully say that a federal court judge appointed from the Barreau du Québec is still “from” that bar ― as opposed to some other one ― after he or she has held judicial office for many years. At the very least the interpretation that imposes no temporal constraint is just as plausible as the one that does. In my view, it is actually more so.

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Prof. St-Hilaire’s second critique is historical. Actually, it consists of two distinct claims. The first is that, contrary to what the Québec Court of Appeal (and implicitly the Supreme Court) concluded, the concerns that motivated the enactment of s. 98 were the same that, later, motivated the enactment of what would eventually become s. 6 of the Supreme Court Act ― and, therefore, that the reasoning of the Supreme Court’s majority in l’Affaire Nadon is applicable to l’Affaire Mainville as well.

Actually, I think that it is easy to see that, while in a very general sense these two provisions were indeed motivated by the same concern for the integrity of Québec’s civil law, the precise problems they were intended to solve were quite different. If they hadn’t been, the Supreme Court would have been created in 1867, along with the rest of the federal institutions. The additional problem that prevented this from happening was that a majority of the Supreme Court’s judges were obviously going to be non-Québeckers, and s. 98 could not apply. The guarantee of representation in s. 6 of the Supreme Court Act was the solution to this specific problem ― that of creating a national court which, despite mostly consisting of judges from common law provinces, would nonetheless be acceptable to Québec. This specific context was key to the Supreme Court’s reading of s. 6 in l’Affaire Nadon. The Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court were right to conclude that it made that case’s holding inapposite in interpreting s. 98.

The second part of Prof. St-Hilaire’s historical critique has to do with the meaning of the expression “from the bar” in 1867. Prof. St-Hilaire points to the statutory provisions regulating the appointment of judges to Québec’s courts before confederation, which he says “obviously” must inform the interpretation of s. 98. In his view, these provisions, of which he traces the history in great detail, only allowed the appointment of then-practicing lawyers to the Superior Court, and of the judges of that particular court as well as of then-practicing lawyers to the Court of Queen’s Bench, which since became the Court of Appeal. That is right, so far as it goes, at least with respect to the Court of Queen’s Bench (though I am not quite sure about the Superior Court). But, as those who supported the constitutionality of Justice Mainville’s appointment have always argued, s. 98 was drafted differently from these provisions. The models to which prof. St-Hilaire points were available, and yet they were not followed. So it is far from “obvious” that these provisions must or even can serve as guides for the interpretation of s. 98. Rather, the choice ― quite clearly the deliberate choice ― of a different wording, one that made no mention of the currency of bar membership or courts where the appointee may have served prior to appointment under s. 98 suggest that these conditions cannot be read into that provision.

And then, one must ask a broader question about the value of an originalist interpretation such the one prof. St-Hilaire offers, even one that is about original public meaning and not about original intent (on which Québec’s submissions in l’Affaire Mainville focused). Prof St-Hilaire simply assumes that originalism is an appropriate approach to this case, but that too is far from obvious. In particular, the federal courts, and federal court judges appointed to that office because of their membership in the Québec bar, such as Justice Mainville, simply did not exist in 1867. So to conclude that the original meaning of s. 98 would not have included such judges is not to say much of anything about whether that provision should be understood as allowing their appointment in 2015.

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Prof. St-Hilaire describes his third and final objection as a “practical” one. He argues that allowing the appointment of a judge of the federal courts to Québec’s superior courts makes it possible “to do indirectly what one cannot do directly” ― that is to say, to subsequently appoint such a judge to one of Québec’s seats on the Supreme Court, contrary to the majority opinion in l’Affaire Nadon. This claim suffers from two major difficulties.

The first is that the majority in l’Affaire Nadon did not say that a former judge of the federal courts can never be appointed to the Supreme Court. On the contrary, the majority specifically pointed out that it did “not address” the question of whether such judge “who was a former advocate of at least 10 years standing at the Quebec bar could rejoin the Quebec bar for a day in order to be eligible for appointment to this Court under s. 6” [71] ― much less that of a judge served on one of Québec’s courts for some substantial period of time. The majority’s express refusal to address the issue is hardly warrant for inferring that the Court decided it in a specific way.

Second, prof St-Hilaire’s endorsement of the “practical objection” is unjustifiably selective. As I pointed out here, the same objection could be raised against the appointment, under s. 98, of persons who resigned their membership in the Québec bar in order to become judges of the provincial court. They too cannot be appointed directly to the Supreme Court pursuant to s. 6 of the Supreme Court Act, and yet become eligible for such an appointment if they are elevated to the Superior Court or Court of Appeal. Yet, like the Québec government, prof. St-Hilaire says that such appointments should be possible. Québec argued that that was because judges of the provincial court were members of a “legal institution of Québec,” while judges of the federal courts were not. It was a weak argument, given the federal courts’ involvement with Québec and its legal system, but at least it sounded in principle. Prof. St-Hilaire, for his part, simply says it is a “much better compromise between law and facts” (meaning the longstanding practice of such appointments, in Québec and elsewhere) than the interpretation retained by both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. Yet, again as the federal government and others have always argued, this concession to constitutional practice is quite untethered from the text of s. 98, which does not distinguish between former lawyers appointed to provincial courts and former lawyers appointed to federal courts.

Undeterred, prof. St-Hilaire doubles down and suggests that the same approach “could and should indeed have been applied (mutatis mutandis, of course) to the interpretation of” section 97 of the Constitution Act, 1867.” Yet apart from, once again, the lack of any foundation in the text of s. 97, this interpretation would have led to the curious result that, while eligible under s. 5 of the Supreme Court Act to represent the province from which they were originally appointed to the federal courts at the Supreme Court (something the Supreme Court unanimously confirmed in l’Affare Nadon), federal court judges could not be appointed to that province’s own courts under s. 97. Then again, under prof. St-Hilaire’s and Québec’s interpretation, the judges of the Supreme Court itself, no matter what their previous affiliation, would not be eligible to be appointed to Québec’s courts under s. 98. Québec’s lawyer did his best to laugh this question away when it was put to him at the hearing at the Supreme Court and, when pressed, utterly failed to answer. I do not think that, had he been in that lawyer’s place, prof. St-Hilaire would have succeeded either.

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Prof St-Hilaire undertook to convince us that, despite the absence of any indication to that effect in the text of that provision, s. 98 is best interpreted as preventing some, but not all, former lawyers from being appointed to Québec’s Superior Court and Court of Appeal. I do not think that his arguments are persuasive. At most, it seems to me that an interpretation of s. 98 that would bar the appointment of all (not just some) former lawyers was textually plausible, though no more, and probably less, compelling than the alternative, allowing the appointment of such lawyers.

And even if textually plausible, such a restrictive interpretation was practically undesirable. Everyone agreed, I believe, that Justice Mainville would make a fine judge of the Québec Court of Appeal. Had he been appointed directly to that court, the appointment would likely have been met with universal approval. Has his service at the Federal Court and Federal Court of Appeal made him a worse jurist? Of course not. And so it seems to me that an interpretation that would prevent the appointment of eminently qualified judges so as to assuage the fears that long-dead men might or might not have felt had some time traveller told them about the federal courts is not to be lightly favoured. The Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court were right not to fall into that trap.

As for whether the Supreme Court really has “repudiated” its opinion in l’Affaire Nadon, as prof. St-Hilaire suggests, I do not think we can quite say that. Again, there are real differences between the provisions at issue there and in l’Affaire Mainville, and just as the resolution of the former does not dictate that of the latter, so we cannot infer from the latter anything about the former. Still, we may indeed conclude that the Court views the statutory interpretation holding of l’Affaire Nadon as confined to its own specific facts, and not in need of being extended. That is good news indeed.

Baroud d’honneur, your honour : une concession, mais trois critiques de l’affaire du juge Mainville

« Nous sommes tous d’avis que le pourvoi doit être rejeté, essentiellement pour les motifs exposés par la Cour d’appel du Québec. […] Les arguments fondés sur le Renvoi relatif à la Loi sur la Cour suprême […] ne résistent pas à l’analyse. Comme la Cour d’appel l’a indiqué […], le présent pourvoi concerne des dispositions constitutionnelles et législatives différentes et le raisonnement et les conclusions de ce renvoi ne s’appliquent pas en l’espèce. » Voilà comment, par la bouche du juge Wagner mais à l’unanimité, la Cour suprême a rapidement disposé de l’appel de l’avis de la Cour d’appel du Québec relatif à l’article 98 LC 1867.

Dans son avis du 21 mars 2014 sur sa loi constitutive, la Cour suprême du Canada avait estimé que l’expression « choisis […] parmi les avocats » de la province de Québec, à l’article 6, désignait les avocats actuels, à l’exclusion des anciens avocats. Le 23 décembre de la même année, la Cour d’appel du Québec a avalisé la thèse selon laquelle l’article 98 LC 1867, où il est question de juges « selected from the Bar » (la traduction française non officielle parle de juges « choisis parmi les membres du barreau »), et l’article 6 de la Loi sur la Cour suprême ne devaient pas recevoir la même interprétation.

La réponse à la question de la constitutionnalité, en vertu de l’article 98 LC 1867, de la nomination d’un juge de la Cour d’appel fédérale à la Cour d’appel du Québec pouvait dépendre de celle donnée à plusieurs sous-questions. La Cour d’appel du Québec n’a su me convaincre que sur l’une d’entre celles-ci, mais d’une manière insuffisante à me faire changer d’avis sur celle-là : une telle nomination devait être tenue pour inconstitutionnelle. Suivent donc une concession, puis trois critiques de l’avis de la Cour d’appel que vient de cautionner la Cour suprême et dans lequel je vois justement trois grands ordres de motifs : textuel, historique et pratique.

Concession. Il est vrai que les « Courts of Quebec » au sens de l’article 98 LC 1867 ne sont que la Cour supérieure et la Cour d’appel

Dans mon billet du 24 juin 2014 ainsi que dans la lettre ouverte qu’avec mon collègue le professeur Hugo Cyr je faisais paraître le lendemain dans Le Devoir, j’affirmais que « ni le texte ni le contexte » de l’article 98 LC 1867 « ne restreint son champ d’application aux seuls juges des cours supérieures au sens large – c’est-à-dire des cours supérieures (au sens strict) et d’appel ». Je soutenais ainsi qu’à l’article 98 LC 1867 « juges du Québec » voulait bel et bien dire « juges du Québec », en ayant à l’esprit les membres de tous les tribunaux judiciaires de la province.

Cette interprétation n’est plus celle que je favoriserais. Elle voulait se justifier surtout par le compromis pratique auquel elle devait permettre d’en arriver en préservant la constitutionnalité de la nomination de membres de tribunaux judiciaires de compétence inférieure, dont la Cour du Québec, aux cours de justice de compétence supérieure. Or, puisque l’article « équivalent » – car il s’en distingue aussi par sa vocation transitoire d’origine – relatif aux autres provinces, l’article 97, prévoit expressément ne s’appliquer qu’aux juges nommés par le gouverneur général, je cède désormais devant l’objection de Léonid Sirota selon laquelle il serait problématique que « provincial court judges [be] ineligible for elevation to Superior Courts in common law provinces even if they are not in Québec ». Et sur le plan historique il est vrai que, à l’époque, de trop nombreux juges des juridictions québécoises de compétence inférieure, dont les juges de paix et les « commissaires », étaient des non-juristes pour qu’il fût l’intention du constituant de disposer autrement. Je me range donc maintenant derrière l’opinion – qui était aussi celle, non seulement du Procureur général du Canada, mais aussi de la Procureure générale du Québec, selon laquelle, tout comme l’article 97 pour les autres provinces, l’article 98 ne concerne, pour le Québec, que les nominations judiciaires prévues à l’article 96, soit celles des membres des cours « provinciales » de compétence supérieure, soit, à l’heure actuelle, la Cour supérieure et la Cour d’appel (par. 25 de l’avis de la CAQ).

Cette concession faite, il me restait à déterminer si l’on avait su me convaincre du fait que la meilleure interprétation à donner à l’expression « selected from the Bar » est celle qui lui fait dire « choisi par ceux qui ont déjà été admis au barreau aux fins de l’exercice de la profession d’avocat » plutôt que « choisi parmi les membres du barreau qui sont autorisés à exercer la profession d’avocat ».

Critique no 1. « From the Bar » comme voulant dire « ayant déjà été admis au barreau » : réfutation de l’argument de texte

L’argument de texte se résume comme suit. Parce que, dans la Loi sur la Cour suprême, l’expression « parmi les avocats » de l’article 6 relatif à la nomination des juges provenant du Québec se distingue, surtout dans la version anglaise, de l’expression « is or has been […] a barrister or advocate » de l’article 5 relatif à la nomination des juges provenant des autres provinces, il faudrait conclure que, à défaut de pouvoir se distinguer d’une expression équivalente à « is or has been » à l’article 97 LC 1867 relatif à la nomination des juges des cours supérieures des autres provinces, l’expression « selected from the Bar » de l’article 98 relatif à la nomination des juges des cours supérieures du Québec veut forcément dire « choisis parmi les membres actuels ou anciens ». Bref, la Cour d’appel est d’avis que, en principe, une expression telle que « parmi les avocats de… » ou « parmi les membres du barreau de… » veut aussi renvoyer aux anciens avocats ou membres du barreau. Ce ne serait donc qu’exceptionnellement qu’une telle expression pourrait ne vouloir dire que ce qu’elle dit. En plus d’être hautement contre-intuitif, cet « argument » n’en est pas un. Il est arbitraire. Il érige le particulier et contigent en général et nécessaire. Qui plus est, il est anachronique, car cette logique textuelle de la Loi sur la Cour suprême ne remonte qu’à 1886.

Critique no 2. « From the Bar » comme voulant dire « ayant déjà été admis au barreau » : réfutation de l’argument historique

Quant à l’argument d’ordre historique, il veut que des objectifs de nature différente président à l’article 6 de la Loi sur la Cour suprême et à l’article 98 LC 1867. De l’avis de la Cour d’appel du Québec, lors des débats sur le projet de fédération, les « représentants du Bas-Canada auraient pu craindre qu’en accordant un pouvoir de nomination aussi important au gouverneur général, la pratique de nommer des juges d’origine étrangère, ou dénués de connaissance en droit privé local, reprendrait de plus belle. Mais, à une exception près, ce ne fut pas le cas » (par. 50 de l’avis de la CAQ). S’il fallait en croire la Cour d’appel, « l’article 98 [de la LC 1867] s’inscri[rait] dans un contexte précis et bien différent de celui qui entoura la création de la Cour suprême » (par. 52). Rien n’est plus faux.

En effet, dès lors qu’il fut proposé que le gouverneur général soit chargé de la nomination des juges des « cours supérieures » des provinces, les élites du Bas-Canada se sont inquiétées. C’est en réponse aux questions des députés que, le 21 février 1865, le solliciteur général du Canada-Uni, Sir Hector-Louis Langevin, intervient en assemblée pour dire que, « dans la constitution proposée, il y a un article qui porte que les juges des cours du Bas-Canada seront choisis parmi les membres du barreau de cette section […] ». Il se trompe toutefois en avançant que « [c]ette exception n’a été faite que pour le Bas-Canada ». Avant la résolution no 35 des 72 Résolutions de Québec d’octobre 1864, qui prévoyait que « [l]es juges des cours du Bas-Canada seront choisis parmi les membres du barreau du Bas-Canada », se trouvait la résolution no 34, qui prévoyait que, « [j]usqu’à ce qu’on ait consolidé les lois du Haut-Canada, du Nouveau-Brunswick, de la Nouvelle-Écosse, de Terre-Neuve et de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard, les juges de ces provinces qui seront nommés par le gouverneur général seront pris dans les barreaux respectifs ». On y reconnaît aisément les futurs articles 97 et 98 LC 1867. Or la disposition concernant les provinces autres que le Québec fait dans les deux cas allusion à l’uniformisation prévue du droit des autres provinces (résolution n29.33, futur article 94 LC 1867) et se présente donc comme disposition de droit transitoire. C’est à bon droit que la Procureure générale du Québec a voulu rappeler à la Cour suprême que, « [d]e fait, dès la Conférence de Québec, certains Pères de la Confédération ont manifesté le souhait d’avoir un système de droit uniforme et un seul barreau pour tout le Canada. La réalisation d’un tel objectif était, toutefois, impossible étant donné la position du Bas-Canada » (par. 50 du mémoire de la PGQ devant la CSC). Si l’adoption de l’article 96 LC 1867 a généré peu de débats, c’est que l’article 98 venait en limiter les risques, non pas que la question avait perdu de son importance. Compris notamment à la lumière des conditions de nomination à la Cour supérieure et à la Cour du Banc de la Reine (ancêtre de la Cour d’appel du Québec comme cour permanente) qui étaient prévues dans les lois du Canada-Uni qui devaient être transitoirement reconduites, cet article 98 était tenu pour clair. De distinguer les enjeux de l’article 98 de la LC 1867 de ceux des dispositions qui, dans l’histoire de la Cour suprême, ont assuré à celle-ci un contingent de juges québécois relève de la fabrication.

La lutte pour la « représentation du droit québécois » au sein de la composition de la Cour suprême du Canada s’est inscrite dans le prolongement direct de celle qui, de longue haleine, avait mené aux acquis que visait à préserver l’article 98 LC 1867. Dès 1865, la possibilité projetée (par la résolution no 29.34) que, au sein de la fédération des colonies, le nouveau parlement fédéral puisse créer une « cour générale d’appel » inquiète par exemple le député Henri-Elzéar Taschereau : « Nous avons la garantie que nous aurons nos tribunaux locaux, que nos juges seront pris parmi les membres du barreau du Bas-Canada, et que nos lois civiles seront maintenues; mais pourquoi établir une cour d’appel fédérale dans laquelle il y aura appel des décisions rendues par tous nos juges […]? » (par. 104 du mémoire de la PGQ devant la CSC). Après l’entrée en vigueur de la LC 1867, la création d’une telle cour sera d’abord proposée en 1869, puis en 1870, avant de devenir réalité en 1875, par une loi constitutive prévoyant que deux de ses six juges « seront pris parmi les juges de la Cour supérieure ou de la Cour du Banc de la Reine, ou parmi les avocats de la province de Québec » (Acte de la Cour suprême et de l’Échiquier, SC 1875, c. 11, art. 4). Il est évident que, en l’étendant à ce nouvel échelon de la hiérarchie judiciaire, c’est la logique de l’article 98 LC 1867 qui est reprise ici. Il ne fait selon moi aucun doute que la Procureure générale du Québec était dans le vrai en affirmant qu’il « ressort des débats entourant la création de la Cour suprême que c’est la crainte que la garantie dont bénéficiait [sic] les cours supérieures du Québec en vertu de l’article 98 LC 1867 soit contrecarrée par l’établissement d’un nouveau tribunal d’appel qui a incité les représentants du Québec à exiger une représentation de juges du Québec au sein de la Cour suprême. […] Avec égards, la Cour d’appel insiste à tort sur le fait que l’article 6 de la Loi sur la Cour suprême consacre un compromis historique qui serait limité à la création de la Cour suprême » (par. 111-112 de l’avis de la CAQ).

Or la prise en compte de l’histoire fondait un argument bien plus fort, que la Cour d’appel n’a fait qu’évoquer (par. 61 de l’avis de la CAQ), mais que le Procureur général du Canada avait brillamment exposé (par. 65 à 84 du mémoire du PGC devant la CAQ). Cet argument est que la catégorie de « membre du barreau » d’une province est définie, non pas par la loi constitutionnelle, mais par la loi ordinaire provinciale et les règlements des différents barreaux provinciaux, de sorte que, dans l’histoire – et encore aujourd’hui d’une province à l’autre – les juges, ou certains d’entre eux, ont pu conserver, tel quel ou modifié, leur statut de membre du barreau après leur nomination. Partant, en 1867, l’expression « selected from the Bar » aurait été appelée à couvrir les juges des cours de compétence inférieure qui continuaient d’appartenir au barreau de la province. Relevons en passant que ce n’est que depuis 1967, et ce, par inadvertance apparemment, que, avec l’abolition du statut de membre honoraire, la loi québécoise relative au barreau prive les juges de toute appartenance à cet ordre professionnel (par. 82-84 du mémoire du PGC devant la CAQ). Dans leur mémoire devant la Cour d’appel, les procureurs des Cris soutenaient ainsi « qu’au moment de la rédaction de l’article 98 de la Loi constitutionnelle de 1867, les juges étaient considérés comme étant toujours des membres du Barreau du Bas-Canada » (par. 63 du mémoire du Grand conseil des Cris et du Gouvernement de la Nation crie devant la CAQ). Faisant encore un pas de plus, ils, ainsi que le Procureur général du Canada, ont réussi à convaincre la Cour d’appel du Québec de ce que, à l’article 98 LC 1867, « from the Bar » voulait dire « ayant déjà été admis à l’exercice de la profession d’avocat par le barreau ». L’argument a presque réussi à me convaincre.

Or, en 1867, « selected from the Bar », à l’article 98 LC 1867, devait manifestement être compris à la lumière des conditions de nomination à la Cour supérieure et à la Cour du Banc de la Reine du Bas-Canada, conditions qui étaient prévues dans les lois du Canada-Uni, dont l’article 129 LC 1867 prévoyait, de façon transitoire, le maintien en vigueur. Et il se trouve que ces conditions opposaient, comme catégories de candidats, celle des membres du barreau à celle de juges de tribunaux précisément indiqués. Cela exclut donc une catégorie de juges d’autres juridictions ayant conservé une forme ou une autre d’appartenance au barreau qui, au Bas-Canada, n’a été constitué par la loi qu’en 1849 (Acte pour l’incorporation du Barreau du Bas-Canada, S.C. (1849) 12 Vict., c. 46). En effet, l’article 4 de l’Acte pour amender les lois relatives aux cours de juridiction civile en première instance dans le Bas-Canada (SC (1849) 12 Vict., c. 38), qui porte création de la Cour supérieure – nom qui provient sans doute, comme le suggère Donald Fyson, des anciens « superior terms » de la Cour du banc du roi (ou de la reine) – prévoyait « qu’aucune personne ne sera nommée juge de la dite cour supérieure, à moins qu’immédiatement avant nomination elle ne soit juge de l’une des dites cours du banc de la reine, ou juge de circuit ou de district, ou avocat de dix ans de pratique au moins au barreau du Bas-Canada ». La mention de juge de district m’intrigue, car à ma connaissance les Cours de District (et les Cours de Division) avaient été abolies en 1843 (SC 7 Vict., c. 16, 18 et 19). Quant à l’Acte pour établir une cour ayant juridiction en appel et en matières criminelles pour le Bas-Canada (S.C. (1849) 12 Vict., c. 37), qui portait création de la Cour du Banc de la Reine du Bas-Canada en tant que cour d’appel permanente, son article 2 prévoyait que « personne ne sera nommé juge-en-chef ou juge puisné comme susdit, à moins d’avoir été, lors de sa nomination, juge de l’une des diverses cours du banc de la Reine dans le Bas-Canada, ou juge de la cour supérieure, ou juge de circuit, ou à moins d’avoir été avocat pratiquant pendant au moins dix ans au barreau du Bas-Canada […] ». Ici, malgré une rédaction moins habile, « avoir été avocat » devait aussi se vérifier au moment de la nomination, et « pendant » voulait dire « depuis ». La version anglaise parle d’ailleurs d’un « Advocate of at least ten years’ standing at the Bar of Lower-Canada ».

Au-dessous de la Cour supérieure venait en effet la Cour de Circuit, alors héritière de la compétence de l’ancienne Cour du Banc de la Reine « en termes inférieurs ». En 1857, l’article 13 de l’Acte pour amender les actes de judicature du Bas Canada (SC (1857) 20 Vict., c. 44) abolit la charge de juge de circuit et prévoit que la Cour de Circuit sera tenue par les juges de la Cour supérieure qui « auront tous les pouvoirs et les devoirs accordés et attribués à tout juge de circuit à l’époque à laquelle la présente section sera mise à effet ». Cela ne veut aucunement dire que la Cour de circuit, dont la compétence est large mais d’attribution, devient pour autant une cour de compétence supérieure, quoiqu’elle dispose d’un pouvoir de surveillance et de contrôle. Mais la doctrine et la jurisprudence canadiennes semblent unanimes à voir une cour de compétence supérieure dans la nouvelle forme que prend cette juridiction, qui sera abolie en 1952, alors que sa compétence sera attribuée à la Cour (provinciale inférieure) de magistrat, et ce, en vertu d’une loi de 1945 (S.Q. 9 Geo VI, c. 19). Au tournant du XXe siècle, des lois québécoises visant à remplacer la Cour de circuit par la Cour de magistrat dans la région de Montréal auront été désavouées par le gouverneur général. Quoi qu’il en soit du statut de cette nouvelle Cour de Circuit dans la hiérarchie judiciaire, nonobstant le fait qu’elle abolit la charge de juge de circuit, la loi de 1857 prévoit de manière transitoire, à son article 10, que « les nouveaux juges de la cour [supérieure] et tous les juges qui y seront nommés à l’avenir seront choisis parmi les juges de circuit d’alors et les avocats de dix années de pratique au moins dans le barreau du Bas-Canada […] ». La catégorie des juges de district disparaît, et celle des juges de circuit est appelée à le faire.

À l’occasion de la refonte de 1861, l’Acte concernant la Cour supérieure (S.R.B.-C. 1861, c. 78) est mis à jour, et son nouvel article 7, relatif aux conditions de nomination, se lit comme suit : « Le juge en chef et les juges de la cour supérieure, en office lors de la mise à effet de la section neuf de l’acte 20 V. c. 44, continuent à l’être en vertu de la commission qu’ils avaient alors; les nouveaux juges de la cour ont été choisis parmi les juges de circuit d’alors, et les avocats de dix années de pratique au moins au barreau du Bas Canada;– et tous les juges qui seront nommés à l’avenir seront choisis parmi les dits avocats ayant pratiqué pendant le même nombre d’années. » Désormais, seuls les avocats en exercice depuis dix ans au Barreau du Bas-Canada seront éligibles à la charge de juge de la Cour supérieure du Bas-Canada. Quant à l’Acte concernant la Cour du Banc de la Reine (S.R.B.-C. 1861, c. 77), son nouvel article 2 se lit comme suit : « Nul ne sera nommé juge-en-chef ou juge puisné, à moins d’avoir été, lors de sa nomination, juge de la Cour supérieure du Bas Canada, ou à moins d’avoir été avocat pratiquant pendant au moins dix ans au barreau du Bas Canada. » La formulation est la même qu’en 1849, à cette exception près que les catégories de candidats formées des juges des anciennes et diverses cours du banc de la Reine du Bas-Canada et des juges de circuit sont abolies. En 1864, une cour d’appel intermédiaire devant prendre place entre la Cour supérieure et la Cour du Banc de la Reine est créée : la Cour de révision, qui sera abolie en 1920 (S.Q. (1920) 10 Geo. V, c. 79). L’article 20 de sa loi constitutive (S.C. (1864) 27-28 Vict., c. 39) prévoit cependant qu’elle se composera de « trois juges de la cour supérieur à Montréal ou à Québec », de sorte que cette réorganisation judiciaire est sans conséquence sur les conditions de nomination aux tribunaux auxquels s’appliquera bientôt l’article 98 LC 1867. Nous y voilà : la thèse selon laquelle l’expression « from the Bar », à cet article, serait alors comprise comme voulant dire « détenant une forme ou une autre de statut de membre du barreau (dont celui que pourrait avoir le membre d’un tribunal non désigné par les lois du Canada-Uni relatives aux conditions de nomination à la Cour supérieure et à la Cour du Banc de la Reine du Bas-Canada) » se révèle des plus improbables. Cette thèse ne peut aucunement militer en faveur de celle selon laquelle, de nos jours, l’expression qui nous occupe devrait vouloir dire « ayant déjà été admis à l’exercice de la profession d’avocat par le barreau ».

La Procureure générale du Québec était du reste fondée de souligner que, dans les premières décennies qui ont suivi l’entrée en vigueur de la LC 1867, le Parlement fédéral n’a pas jugé utile de modifier les conditions de nomination des juges de la Cour supérieure et de la Cour du Banc de la Reine du Québec qui étaient posées par les lois du Canada-Uni (par. 77 du mémoire de la PGQ devant la CSC). Avec les autres dispositions des lois du Canada-Uni dont le contenu relevait maintenant de la compétence du Parlement fédéral, celles qui nous intéressent ici n’ont été abrogées qu’à la faveur de la refonte de 1886 (Acte concernant les statuts révisés du Canada, SC (1886) 49 Vic. c. 4). Qui plus est, elles n’ont été remplacées par le législateur fédéral qu’en 1912 (Loi modifiant la Loi des juges, S.C. (1912) 2 Geo. V, c. 29, art. 9). Qu’on me comprenne bien : je ne suis pas en train de dire que ces conditions « préconfédératives » de nomination aux cours de compétence supérieure du Québec ont été constitutionnalisées dans le détail par l’article 98 LC 1867. Je suis plutôt en train de dire que c’est à leur lumière que s’éclaire d’abord le sens de l’expression « from the Bar » qu’on trouve à ce dernier article. Et les paragraphes qui précèdent ne laissent guère douter du fait que c’est la Procureure générale du Québec qui avait raison en soutenant que, « au moment de la Confédération, les conditions de nomination aux tribunaux supérieurs du Québec étaient bien établies. Seuls les membres du Barreau du Bas-Canada et des tribunaux supérieurs de la province pouvaient y accéder » (par. 71 du mémoire de la PGQ devant la CSC). La Cour d’appel du Québec reconnaît elle-même dans son avis que, « pendant la période préconfédérative, seuls les juristes qui depuis dix ans étaient avocats en exercice, ou qui étaient juges de la Cour supérieure, de district ou de comté, pouvaient devenir juges à la Cour du Banc de la Reine » (par. 72 de l’avis de la CAQ).

Relevons au passage que, si, de la part de la Cour d’appel, d’interpréter l’article 98 LC 1867 à la lumière des lois du Canada-Uni qui en constituaient le contexte historique s’imposait et n’aurait pas été une erreur, en revanche, d’interpréter ce même article constitutionnel à la lumière des dispositions de la loi ordinaire postérieure à l’entrée en vigueur de la LC 1867, dispositions dont cet article qui nous occupe fonde les conditions de validité, en était une (par. 58-67 de l’avis de la CAQ). Je partage donc aisément l’opinion de la Procureure générale du Québec selon laquelle, « contrairement à ce qu’avance l’avis de la Cour d’appel, une loi fédérale ne peut servir à interpréter une disposition constitutionnelle dont le rôle est d’encadrer le pouvoir du gouvernement fédéral sur une institution provinciale » (par. 97 du mémoire de la PGQ devant la CSC). Il n’agit ici d’une notion élémentaire et universelle de droit constitutionnel. Encore là, contrairement à la reconstruction à laquelle la Cour d’appel se livre à l’invitation du Procureur général du Canada (par. 88-99 du mémoire du PGC devant la CAQ), l’histoire de la loi fédérale relative aux conditions de nomination aux cours de compétence supérieure n’est pas de continuité mais de rupture. Ce n’est que depuis 1976 que, outre les avocats de la province, d’anciens avocats de la province devenus juges de la cour provinciale ou de la Cour suprême du Yukon ou des Territoires du Nord-Ouest peuvent être nommés aux cours de compétence supérieure de cette même province (Loi modifiant la Loi sur les juges et d’autres dispositions concernant la magistrature, SC 1976-1977, c. 25, art. 1). Quant aux avocats de la province qui sont devenus juges des cours fédérales, ils ne le peuvent que depuis une modification apportée à la loi en 1996, de manière à inclure les anciens avocats de la province « ayant exercé à temps plein des fonctions de nature judiciaire à l’égard d’un poste occupé en vertu d’une loi fédérale ou provinciale » (Loi modifiant la Loi sur la Cour fédérale, la Loi sur les juges et la Loi sur la Cour canadienne de l’impôt, LC 1996, c. 22, art. 2).

Critique no 3. « From the Bar » comme voulant dire « ayant déjà été admis au barreau » : réfutation (partielle) de l’argument pratique

La Cour d’appel du Québec et, à sa suite, la Cour suprême du Canada faisaient face à une réalité pratique qu’elles ont pu tenir pour contraignante : « Ce ne sont pas tous les juges de toutes les cours supérieures canadiennes, en première instance ou en appel, qui ont accédé à la magistrature en provenance directe du barreau d’une province, loin de là. […] Beaucoup ont été nommés à une cour supérieure après avoir exercé une fonction judiciaire dans un tribunal visé par le paragraphe 14 de l’article 92 de la Loi constitutionnelle de 1867 » (par. 59 de l’avis de la CAQ). Dans son billet du 26 juin 2014, Léonid Sirota donnait l’exemple de la juge Abella, qui, en 1992, avait été nommée à la Cour d’appel de l’Ontario alors qu’elle était juge de la Cour provinciale de cette même province. Concernant le Québec, la Procureure générale de cette province a dû concéder que, « depuis 1867, les juges des cours supérieures sont régulièrement choisis [non seulement] parmi les membres du Barreau, mais également parmi les membres des tribunaux judiciaires du Québec » (par. 81 du mémoire de la PGQ devant la CSC). Bref, il était devenu pratiquement impossible de reconnaître l’inconstitutionnalité d’un aussi grand nombre de nominations judiciaires, sur une période du reste aussi longue.

Toutefois, il en va autrement de la nomination, à une cour visée par l’article 97 ou par l’article 98 LC 1867, d’un juge fédéral ou territorial. Dans son billet du 14 juillet 2014, Paul Daly donnait l’exemple du juge Robertson qui, en 2000, avait été nommé juge de la Cour d’appel du Nouveau-Brunswick alors qu’il était juge de la Cour d’appel de la cour martiale du Canada. Or le fait que la nomination d’un juge fédéral à une cour visée par les articles 97 ou 98 LC 1867 fût inusité devait normalement tomber à pic, compte tenu de l’avis de la Cour suprême du 21 mars 2014 relatif aux articles 5 et 6 de sa loi constitutive. Regrettablement, la Cour suprême ne l’a pas entendu de cette oreille.

Le droit n’est pas censé permettre que soit fait indirectement ce qu’il interdit de faire directement. La Cour suprême du Canada vient pourtant de permettre, en le faisant transiter par la Cour supérieure ou par la Cour d’appel du Québec, au gouverneur en conseil de nommer à cette même Cour suprême du Canada, à titre de juge du Québec, un (ancien) juge fédéral, ce dont elle nous avait dit que, en vertu de l’article 6 de la Loi sur la Cour suprême (constitutionnalisé par l’al. 41d) LC 1982), c’était impossible de faire directement. Contrairement à la formule sommaire des motifs oraux juge Wagner, il ne devait pas faire de toute, non seulement que « [l]es articles 98 LC 1867 et 6 de la Loi sur la Cour suprême sont deux dispositions constitutionnelles participant à la protection du système civiliste dans le cadre des nominations judiciaires par le gouverneur général » (seul ou en conseil), de sorte qu’il importait « de concilier leur interprétation de manière à assurer la cohérence de la structure constitutionnelle canadienne » (par. 113 du mémoire de la PGQ devant la CSC), mais aussi, et plus particulièrement, qu’il était capital de s’assurer que l’interprétation jurisprudentielle de l’article 98 LC 1867 ne permette pas de faire indirectement ce que celle de l’article 6 de la Loi sur la Cour suprême ne permet pas de faire directement. Or l’interprétation de l’article 98 LC 1867 que vient d’avaliser la Cour suprême du Canada « pourrait miner significativement la confiance du public envers le système judiciaire canadien » (par. 125 du mémoire de la PGQ devant la CSC). On est certes autorisé à penser que la Cour suprême vient de désavouer son avis dans « l’affaire du juge Nadon ». On l’est encore davantage de craindre que c’est ce que pensera le grand public.

La solution proposée par la Procureure générale du Québec devant la Cour suprême était d’interpréter « from the Bar of that province », à l’article 98 LC 1867, comme voulant dire « parmi les membres actuels du Barreau du Québec ou ceux des tribunaux judiciaires québécois ». Une telle solution aurait d’ailleurs pu et dû être appliquée (mutatis mutandis, évidemment) à l’interprétation de l’article 97 LC 1867. Une telle solution aurait représenté un bien meilleur compromis entre le droit et les faits.

Reste à voir, comme l’a relevé Léonid Sirota, si, par le truchement de son nouveau Code de déontologie des avocats, le Barreau du Québec n’a pas lui-même renoncé à la protection de l’avis rendu par la Cour suprême dans l’affaire Nadon. En effet, parmi les charges de juge, le nouvel article 139.1 du Code tient pour incompatible avec l’exercice de la profession d’avocat la seule « fonction de juge suivant la Loi sur les tribunaux judiciaires (chapitre T-16) et de juge municipal à titre permanent et à temps complet », ce qui exclut notamment celle de juge d’une cour fédérale.

A Dissent on Mainville

Readers may recall that last summer, when the issue of the constitutionality of Justice Mainville’s appointment to the Québec Court of Appeal was raised, Maxime St-Hilaire argued that the appointment was unconstitutional. First the Québec Court of Appeal and now the Supreme Court have ruled that Justice Mainville’s appointment was indeed constitutional, as I argued in response to prof. St-Hilaire’s post. Prof. St-Hilaire, however, has not been persuaded, and has kindly accepted to explain his reasons here. I am looking forward to reading his post, which should appear shortly. I might respond to him eventually.

This Time It’s Different

Today, the Supreme Court heard Québec’s appeal in l’Affaire Mainville ― and, after deliberating for less than an hour, dismissed it from the bench. Speaking for the Court, Justice Wagner endorsed the reasons of the Québec Court of Appeal in Renvoi sur l’article 98 de la Loi constitutionnelle de 1867 (Dans l’affaire du), 2014 QCCA 2365 (an English version of these reasons is available here). Justice Wagner added that the arguments made by Québec, as well as Rocco Galati and the Constitutional Rights Centre, to the effect that the case was indistinguishable from l’Affaire Nadon, so that judges of the federal courts must be barred not only from Québec’s seats on the Supreme Court, but also from Québec’s Court of Appeal and Superior Court “cannot stand” (my translation). The governing constitutional provisions are simply too different.

This is what I argued from the beginning. The Court of Appeal’s decision was correct, and Québec’s arguments to the contrary, feeble. Paul Wells’ tweet that the challenge to Justice Mainville’s appointment was “laughed out of court” is not much of an exaggeration. It is not every day that a constitutional case is decided from the bench. (Indeed, I wonder when, if ever, that had last happened.) Given this dénouement, and also my copious amount of blogging on this matter, there is not much more left to say.

I will conclude by referring to some comments made by Sébastien Grammond, who argued on behalf of the Canadian Association of Provincial Court Judges and was his usual stellar self. He said that Québec’s attempts to “protect” its judiciary from lawyers who had passed through the federal courts, as though they were “the dark side of the force,” reflected a “crispation identitaire,” which would lead people to compare who is and who is not enough of a Québécois ― something that would, in a schoolyard, considered to be bullying. Prof. Grammond is quite right, and the fact that the bullies’ ranks have included Québec’s best writer on legal affairs is proof of just how bad things were. I hope that the Supreme Court’s unequivocal dismissal of the challenge to Justice Mainville’s appointment will put an end to this collective cramp.


The Supreme Court will hear the oral arguments in l’Affaire Mainville this Friday. The issue in this case concerns the eligibility of Federal Court judges appointed from Québec, and thus former members of the Québec bar, for seats on Québec’s s. 96 Courts, pursuant to s. 98 of the Constitution Act, 1867, which provides that that “[t]he Judges of the Courts of Quebec shall be selected from the Bar of that Province.” More broadly, the eligibility of other former Québec lawyers is also in question. In past posts, I set out my argument for the constitutionality of such appointments; offered some thoughts on Québec’s factum at the Québec Court of Appeal, to which it had referred the question; reported on the interpretive and other issues that were canvassed during the oral argument at the Court of Appeal; and summarized and commented on the Court of Appeal’s opinion stating that the appointments in question were indeed constitutional.

In this post, I want to comment on two aspects of the factum Québec filed in the Supreme Court which I have not covered previously. The first is a somewhat new argument Québec makes: the claim that s. 98 must be interpreted consistently with s. 6 of the Supreme Court Act, which the Supreme Court interpreted in l’Affaire Nadon, Reference re Supreme Court Act ss 5 and 6, 2014 SCC 21, [2014] 1 S.C.R. 433. The second is what I consider to be a deeply flawed version of originalism that is Québec’s favoured mode of constitutional interpretation.

* * *

The coherence argument, which Québec develops in 4.2.2 of its factum, holds that because s. 98 and s. 6 of the Supreme Court Act

are both consitutional provisions that help protect the civil law system in the context of judicial appointments by the Governor General […] it is important to reconcile their interpretation so as to ensure the coherence of Canada’s constitutional structure. [113; translation mine, here and throughout.]

Québec seeks to use this argument to bolster its claim that a judge appointed to a Superior Court in the province (including the Court of Appeal) must have “contemporaneous” links with one of Québec’s “legal institutions” ― of which the Federal Courts are not one. The Supreme Court accepted the idea of contemporaneous links in l’Affaire Nadon ― but that was based, to a considerable extent, on contrasting the wording of s. 6 with that of s. 5 of the Supreme Court Act, which quite clearly allowed the appointment of former, and not only current, judges and lawyers. This contrast does not exist in the case of s. 98, making the textual argument for the contemporaneity requirement unavailable, or at least much more difficult. Hence the attempt to important this requirement through the “coherence” argument. Of course, in l’Affaire Nadon, Québec was on the side of those who insisted on the importance of the textual difference between ss. 5 and 6 of the Supreme Court Act. But now, it would seem that this argument has served its purpose and has been jettisoned ― coherence, ironically, be damned.

Yet apart from being ironic and inconsistent ― which may not trouble Québec’s lawyers but should, it seems to me, trouble the Supreme Court’s judges ― Québec’s position is also paradoxical. It makes sense to argue that provision A ought to be interpreted consistently with provision B when A was enacted after or at the same time as B. In both these cases, the interpretive presumption that the legislature (or the constituant) had B in mind when drafting A is perfectly sensible. However, what Québec is asking the Court to do is to interpret an earlier provision in light of a later one, about which the people who drafted and enacted the earlier provision could not have known. The logic of this position escapes me.

Before moving on, I briefly address another aspect of Québec’s coherence argument. Québec claims that, if its position is not accepted, it would be possible,

insofar as he had once been a member of the Québec bar, for a judge of a federal court or a common law provincial court to be appointed to one of the seats reserved to Québec on the Supreme Court, following a brief stint at the Québec Court of Appeal. [125]

This, according to Québec would amount to doing indirectly that which the Supreme Court in l’Affaire Nadon said could not be done directly, and should not be allowed. The trouble with this claim is twofold. First, it rather blatantly misrepresents the majority’s opinion in l’Affaire Nadon, which was careful to specify that it “[did] not decide”

whether a judge of the Federal Court or Federal Court of Appeal who was a former advocate of at least 10 years standing at the Quebec bar could rejoin the Quebec bar for a day in order to be eligible for appointment to [the Supreme] Court under s. 6. [71]

And second, Québec’s own interpretation of s. 98 allows the exact same run-around ― only for a different set of judges, namely those of Québec’s provincial court. They, no less than the judges of the federal courts, are excluded from appointment under s. 6, yet Québec argues that, as they possess the requisite contemporaneous link to the province’s “legal institutions,” they can be appointed under s. 98 ― and could thus be further appointed under s. 6. (NOTE: I hadn’t read it before posting this, but the factum of the Canadian Association of Provincial Court Judges makes this very point at par. 54.)

* * *

I turn now to the issue of constitutional interpretation. Québec’s argument is heavily originalist. It is replete with claims about the “framers’ intent” (l’intention du Constituant), the compromise to which s. 98 purportedly gives effect, and the conditions prevailing at or in the decades prior to Confederation in 1867. Whether originalism is an acceptable mode of constitutional interpretation in Canada is, in my view, an open question. Canadian constitutional rhetoric tends to reject it out of hand, but the Supreme Court’s practice suggests that, outside the realm of Charter interpretation, the rejection may not as complete as it is often proclaimed to be. (I have some thoughts on this subject here.) Indeed, the federal government’s factum also draws heavily on historical, and arguably originalist, arguments, so that they are likely to feature prominently in the argument before the Court, and perhaps in its opinion too. So rather than a knee-jerk rejection of originalism, I want to offer a reason for being skeptical of the specific brand of originalist argument the Québec invokes.

As Lawrence Solum’s Legal Theory Lexicon entry for “Originalism” helpfully explains, there are a number of distinct varieties of originalism in American constitutional thought, the two most significant of which are “original intent originalism” and “original (public) meaning originalism.” The former held that constitutional texts had to be interpreted in accordance with the intentions of their framers. It mostly had currency in the 1970s and early 1980s, but came under criticism, partly because it was not clear just what the intentions of the framers were and at what level of generality they had to be considered, and partly because the intentions unexpressed in the actually enacted text were deemed irrelevant to legitimate constitutional interpretation. In response to the criticism, a different form of originalism developed and came to dominate, one that focused not on the framers of the constitutional text might have intended, but on the way in which the text that was actually enacted would have been understood at the time. Those who tend to reject originalism out of hand ― and this category includes many Canadian jurists ― tend not to be aware of this distinction. But it matters, and the Québec factum in l’Affaire Mainville shows why.

Québec’s claims focus on what it considers to have been the “intentions” of the framers of s. 98. Thus it argues that

the framers (Constituant), by providing that the judges of Québec’s superior courts would be chosen “from the Bar of that Province,” wanted to guarantee that the persons appointed to these courts would have not only a training endorsed by the Barreau du Québec but also that they would have a contemporaneous link with Québec’s legal institutions. [76; emphasis mine]

How do we know that the framers wanted this, though? Actually, we don’t know this. Because ― as the Federal government repeatedly points out ― that’s not what they wrote. What the framers wrote was a text that ― unlike s. 6 of the Supreme Court Act (on the Supreme Court’s reading, anyway) ― says nothing about the “contemporaneous link,” and still less about the nature of the institutions membership in which can, or cannot, satisfy this purported requirement. Québec is simply taking advantage of the fact that the intent of the framers cannot be known (indeed, it acknowledges that s. 98 was the subject of “little debate” [73] among the framers), and using it as a banner under which to carryits own interpretive theory that doesn’t have much to do with the only sign the framers left of their intent ― the text itself. This is exactly the problem that the critics of original intent originalism identified with that interpretive approach.

Instead of reverse-engineering the intent of the framers of which we have very little evidence, it would make more sense to look, as the proponents of original meaning originalism would have us, at what the constitutional text meant to the people of 1867. And here, the federal government has made, both at the Court of Appeal and now at the Supreme Court (at par. 51-52 of its factum), a crucial point, which is that in 1867, and for a considerable time thereafter, judges could remain members of the Québec Bar. The phrase “from the bar of [Québec]” would therefore not have been understood to exclude individuals who stopped practising law in order to become judges ― such as the judges of the federal courts or, for that matter, those of the provincial court.

All this is not to say that originalist arguments are dispositive, or even that they are valid. For my part, I believe that Sébastien Grammond was right when he suggested, at oral argument at the Court of Appeal, that we should be especially weary of originalist arguments in cases where there is no continuous tradition of judicial interpretations that could bridge the gap between the worlds of 1867 and 2015. However, to the extent that the parties and, possibly, the Court are going to rely on originalist arguments, they should not allow themselves to be led astray by arguments of the type that the vast majority of originalist jurists would reject.

* * *

As I have argued from the moment the question arose, the appointment of Justice Mainville to the Québec Court of Appeal and, hypothetically, of other judges of the federal courts to Québec’s s. 96 bench, is constitutional. Québec’s claims to the contrary are not justified and was rightly rejected by the Québec Court of Appeal. Québec’s Supreme Court factum supplies no argument that would justify overturning this decision. On the contrary, its arguments are so weak as to demonstrate that its position is untenable.

Not Beyond Interpretation

This afternoon, the Québec Court of Appeal delivered its opinion in the Reference re Section 98 of the Constitution Act, 1867 ― which asked it to pronounce on the constitutionality of the appointment, to the Court, of Justice Robert Mainville who was, at the time of that appointment, a judge of the Federal Court of Appeal. The unanimous “Opinion of the Court” states that Justice Mainville’s appointment is, indeed constitutional.

The first substantive question the Court of Appeal addressed was the import of the Supreme Court’s opinion in l’Affaire Nadon, Reference re Supreme Court Act ss 5 and 6, 2014 SCC 21, [2014] 1 S.C.R. 433. Québec and the interveners who argued that Justice Mainville’s appointment was unconstitutional said that it controlled the outcome, since it concerned the interpretation of a provision (section 6 of the Supreme Court Act) whose wording was very similar to that of section 98 of the Constitution Act, 1867 at issue here, the two speaking of appointments “from among the advocates” and “from the Bar” of Québec respectively.

The Court of Appeal finds, however, that to say that the two provisions were in effect identical would “camouflage the complexity of the issue [in l’Affaire Nadon].” [29] In l’Affaire Nadon, the interaction of ss. 5 and 6 of the Supreme Court Act created a difficult problem of interpretation, whose resolution depended on “textual elements” of the Supreme Court Act (the presence of s. 5 itself, as well as the enumeration of courts whose judges could be promoted in s. 6, and the provision relative to ad hoc judges) that do not have equivalents in the Constitution Act, 1867. The Supreme Court’s opinion, therefore, is not dispositive.

The second issue the Court had to address was the interpretation of section 98 of the Constitution Act, 1867 ― a provision, the Court says, that “although consistently applied since [Confederation,] has gone largely unnoticed.” [38] The Court adds that

[t]he historic context therefore takes on particular importance, since in the almost total absence of case law and learned commentary, we can only shed light on the purpose of s. 98 of the Constitution Act, 1867 from that context. In this connection, [Québec] is right to emphasize that in matters of constitutional interpretation, a provision that embodies an historic compromise must be interpreted in a manner to preserve that compromise. [39]

The Court’s opinion, accordingly, draws heavily on the historical record ― but concludes that the compromise embodied by s. 98 is very different from the one that gave birth to s. 6 of the Supreme Court Act. The latter was motivated by worries about

the [Supreme] Court as a federal and bi-juridical institution within which the three judges from Québec would be relied upon to represent the civil law tradition. … It is in this context that confidence in the institution and its legitimacy, a determining factor for the majority [in l’Affaire Nadon] is rooted. [47]

Unlike the Supreme Court, which was created, against some resistance, in 1875, the Superior Courts with which s. 98 is concerned (as is s. 97, which according to the Court of Appeal ― and contrary to Québec’s claims ― is its exact counterpart) existed before Confederation. The challenge, in 1867, was to integrate the pre-existent judicial system into the new federal structure, not really to make that system acceptable ― that problem had largely been solved by then. Section 98 was a pragmatic means of ensuring that Québec’s judges were well versed in the civil law, but not a grand bargain like s. 6 of the Supreme Court Act.

Accordingly, the Court of Appeal rejects “the notion of contemporaneity” [58] that the Supreme Court read into the latter provision. Indeed, given the numerous appointments of trial judges to courts of appeal, and of provincial court judges to superior courts, to read s. 98 literally, as requiring the appointment of current members of the bar, “would quite simply violate common sense.” [59] Echoing the federal government’s submissions, the Court concludes that past the initial admission, “the status a [provincial] Bar confers on someone should not become the criteria [sic] of s. 98.” [61] Former members of the bar ― including the judges of the federal courts ― can be appointed to superior courts and courts of appeal.

This conclusion is consistent with what I have argued since my first post on this issue. But it is interesting nonetheless. For one thing, its historicist or, if you prefer, originalist approach to interpretation is a somewhat surprising choice, having been championed by the parties on the losing more than those on the winning side of the argument (though this might have been one reason that motivated the Court to choose it). For my part, I am inclined to agree with Sébastien Grammond, who argued, on behalf of the Canadian Association of Provincial Court Judges, that the absence of judicial decisions relative to a constitutional provision, which can serve as a bridge before the time of its enactment and the present, should give us pause before adopting such an approach to interpreting it. (Incidentally, I want to point out that the Court is not quite right in saying that there was no “learned commentary” relevant to the issue before it: bloggers ― Paul Daly, Maxime Saint-Hilaire, and, well, yours truly if I can count as “learned,” have provided some!)

And then, there is the dry tone of the Court’s opinion, and the things that it said nothing about. When I wrote about about the oral argument, I divided my report into two parts: the first dealt with the interpretation of s. 98 and of the Supreme Court’s opinion in l’Affaire Nadon, the second with the “soft” issues that went beyond interpretation, namely the meaning of being a Québec jurist and public confidence in the courts. The latter issues, I wrote, were “[d]ifficult to assess” and “should not be decisive in any legal case. They certainly need not be decisive in the Mainville reference.” The Court of Appeal’s opinion suggests that it was of the same view. Still I find their almost complete absence from its opinion striking. Of course this absence does not mean that the Court did not think about these issues ― and then chose not to say anything about them. Whether its reluctance to go beyond interpretation, motivated no doubt by a desire to appear judicial and apolitical, even at the expense of seeming a bit oblivious to the reality of the case before it is a good thing, I’ll let others judge.

For a few years, the Supreme Court had been in the habit of releasing very important decisions in the week just before Christmas. This year, it broke with the tradition of making what Sonia Lawrence described on Twitter as cadeaux pour nerds. Its last pre-Christmas decision, R. v. Fearon, 2014 SCC 77, was in my view the judicial equivalent of a lump of coal. Today’s decision by the Court of Appeal though, is the perfect gift for a constitutional law nerd ― it gets the result right, but leaves one with plenty to think about.

« Suffisamment québécois »

Le nouveau juge en chef de la Cour d’appel fédérale, Marc Noël, a récemment prononcé un discours qui explique très bien les problèmes soulevés par l’avis rendu par la Cour suprême dans l’Affaire Nadon, Renvoi relatif à la Loi sur la Cour suprême, art. 5 et 6, 2014 CSC 21, [2014] 1 R.C.S. 433. Ces problèmes, sont aussi au coeur du renvoi concernant la constitutionnalité de la nomination à la Cour d’appel du Québec du juge Mainville.

Le juge en chef Noël commence par rappeler que,

[q]ue ce soit dans le domaine de l’immigration, la sécurité nationale, la recherche pharmaceutique, l’accès à des médicaments génériques, l’éthique gouvernementale, le co-voisinage avec les peuples autochtones, les menaces environnementales et j’en passe, les Cours fédérales ont un impact réel et presque quotidien sur le vécu des gens. (1)

Et, bien entendu, « [c]es enjeux sont maintenant bien québécois, et nourrissent des pratiques florissantes » (2).

D’ailleurs, de par leur loi constitutive, les Cours fédérales font une large place aux juristes québécois qui y représentent le droit civil: en vertu de l’article 5.4 de la Loi sur les cours fédérales, cinq juges de la Cour d’appel fédérale (sur un total de 13) et 10 juges de la Cour fédérale (sur un total de 37) doivent avoir été des juges ou des avocats québécois.* Tout comme à la Cour suprême, les juristes québécois sont surreprésentés par rapport à ceux des autres provinces. Les juges québécois, souligne le juge en chef, ont eu beaucoup de succès au sein des Cours fédérales. Et, leur connaissance intime de la common law et le fait qu’ils l’appliquent régulièrement ne fait pas d’eux de moins bons civilistes: « [b]ien au contraire, la connaissance en profondeur d’un autre système de droit donne du relief à sa propre tradition juridique ». (3) Les cours fédérales sont, après tout, des tribunaux de droit civil, comme l’Assemblée nationale le reconnaît depuis longtemps.

Or, de dire le juge en chef Noël, l’avis de la Cour suprême dans l’affaire Nadon met en péril cette réussite. En créant l’impression que les juges québécois des cours fédérales sont déconnectés du droit civil et des « valeurs sociales » du Québec et en leur fermant les portes de la Cour suprême, il décourage les candidats québécois potentiels à la magistrature fédérale et sape « le respect institutionnel qu’imposent » les membres de celle-ci. (5) C’est pourquoi

[l]e Québec ne peut se réjouir du fait que ceux qui occupent la place réservée au Québec au sein des Cours fédérales ont désormais un statut diminué par rapport à celui réservé aux juges des autres provinces. Seuls ceux qui veulent voir les Québécois et le Québec se désengager des institutions fédérales, pour ne pas dire en sortir, peuvent se réjouir de la déconsidération des juges du Québec. (9)

Selon le juge en chef Noël, la Cour suprême n’avait « envisagé les conséquences de la création de deux classes de juges, à l’intérieur d’une même cour» (10). Maintenant, il faut y remédier, ce qui est d’autant plus difficile que la Cour suprême a accordé un statut constitutionnel aux qualifications requises des personnes qui y sont nommées.

Le juge en chef Noël semble donc confirmer ma prédiction, dans ma critique de l’avis de la Cour suprême dans l’affaire Nadon, que celui-ci

découragera[it] des Québécois talentueux et ambitieux de postuler à siéger au sein des tribunaux fédéraux, ce qui va nuire à la qualité de ces tribunaux et, ironiquement, leur capacité à représenter la tradition et la communauté juridique du Québec.

Son discours fait aussi écho aux arguments du gouvernement fédéral et des intervenants qui ont défendu la constitutionnalité de la nomination de son collègue le juge Mainville à la Cour d’appel du Québec. Tout comme le juge en chef Noël, ceux-ci ont insisté sur le fait que les cours fédérales font partie du système juridique québécois dont ils appliquent le droit au même titre que les cours supérieures, et que leurs juges sont des membres à part entière de la communauté juridique québécoise.

Yves Boisvert, un chroniqueur d’habitude très intelligent, a mal pris le discours du juge en chef Noël. Ironisant au sujet des « juges québécois de la Cour fédérale [qui] sont profondément meurtris et se sentent victimes d’une injustice », il a dénoncé un discours « politique », une « charge […] sans précédent [e]t franchement contraire au devoir de réserve des juges ». M. Boisvert a tort. Devoir de réserve n’égale pas mutisme obligé. Les juges peuvent se prononcer sur des enjeux d’actualité reliés au système judiciaire, même si leurs déclarations peuvent trouver un écho dans le débat politique, comme ils le font régulièrement en parlant, par exemple, d’accès à la justice ou comme des juges l’ont déjà fait en parlant d’égalité et de discrimination.

Un juge ne manque pas à son devoir de réserve parce qu’il dénonce une vision du droit québécois et même de l’identité québécoise selon laquelle les juristes québécois qui sont nommés à l’une des cours fédérales cessent illico d’être, selon les termes de M. Boisvert, « suffisamment québécois ». (Qu’il me soit permis d’ouvrir une parenthèse ici: lors de l’audience du renvoi concernant la constitutionnalité de la nomination du juge Mainvile, Sébastien Grammond, qui y représentait l’Association canadienne des juges des cours provinciales, avait invoqué le danger que les tentatives d’exclure de la magistrature les candidats jugés insuffisamment québécois ne s’arrêteront pas aux juges des cours fédérales. J’ai pensé qu’il s’agissait d’un argument de pente glissante dramatisé et un peu gratuit. Mea maxima culpa. Si Yves Boisvert parle en ces termes, il ne s’agit pas de conjecture, mais d’un clear and present danger.) Pour revenir à mon propos, un juge ne fait pas de la politique s’il constate que cette vision poussera les juristes québécois à « se désengager des institutions fédérales » et se rend à l’évidence en suggérant que ce sont les séparatistes qui en seront les premiers heureux.

Du reste, le juge en chef Noël a été plutôt modéré dans ses propos. Il n’a pas suggéré que la Cour suprême « stfu », comme l’a fait, à l’endroit de la Cour suprême des États-Unis, le juge Kopf, de la Cour fédérale du district de Nebraska. Il ne se livre pas à une guerre d’usure contre des juges des la Cour suprême, comme le fait, toujours aux États-Unis, le juge Posner, de la Cour d’appel pour le 7e circuit, avec le juge Scalia. Il n’a même pas dit, comme l’a fait le prof. Grammond à l’audience du renvoi Mainville, que la vision qu’il dénonçait tenait de la « crispation identitaire ». Et pourtant, il n’aurait pas eu tort de le faire.

M. Boisvert se trompe aussi en prétendant que seuls « les ego froissés d’une quarantaine de juges » peuvent s’insurger contre une décision de la Cour suprême et une attitude (non seulement québécoise, d’ailleurs, comme en font foi les positions prises par les avocats torontois Rocco Galati et Paul Slansky dans le cadre du renvoi sur la nomination du juge Mainville) dont l’effet est, comme je l’écrivais en commentant l’audience dans ce renvoi, « de confiner les Québécois à leur propre province et de les empêcher de faire du Canada tout entier leur pays ». C’est dommage que M. Boisvert n’ait pas assisté, justement, à cette audience, car il y avait, je crois, une odeur de rébellion dans l’air. Le résultat de l’affaire Nadon a divisé les juristes québécois davantage que d’aucuns ne veulent l’admettre.

Ayant toujours critiqué ce résultat, je suis bien sûr ravi de voir le juge en chef Noël le dénoncer. Le fait qu’il prenne la parole publiquement et parle des conséquences de cet avis auxquelles la Cour suprême n’a probablement pas réfléchi me donne un peu plus espoir que ces conséquences pourront être limitées, à défaut de pouvoir être renversées. Mais il me donne surtout espoir que l’étroitesse d’esprit de ceux qui divisent les Québécois en ceux qui le sont « suffisamment » et ceux qui ne le sont pas sera, à terme, contrée.

*Le juge en chef, j’ai bien peur, se trompe quant au nombre de juges. Cela ne change rien au fond de son propos.

The Mainville Hearing: Beyond Interpretation

The “soft” issues in the Mainville Reference: being a Québec jurist, and public confidence in the courts.

In my last post, I wrote about two of the issues that arise in the reference regarding the constitutionality of Justice Robert Mainville’s appointment to the Québec Court of Appeal: the interpretation of the Constitution Act, 1867 and specifically of its section 98, which provides that “[t]he Judges of the Courts of Quebec shall be selected from the Bar of that Province,” and the import of the Supreme Court’s decision in l’Affaire Nadon, Reference re Supreme Court Act ss 5 and 6, 2014 SCC 21, [2014] 1 S.C.R. 433. In this post I will consider two additional issues, which go beyond the interpretation of purely legal sources. One of them featured prominently in last Wednesday’s oral argument, while the other not at all. Yet both, I think, are important.


The first of these issues, the one that was raised quite explicitly by the parties and the Court on Wednesday was that of identity. Indeed, for me this was the biggest surprise of the hearing ― the extent to which, as the day progressed, the argument became not only about the meaning of legal texts old and new, but about what what it means to be a Québecker and a Québec lawyer. Of course, this question cast a shadow over l’Affaire Nadon, where the majority opinion, in my view, “reflect[ed] ― and reinforce[d] ― a sadly narrow view of what it means to be a Quebecker and a Québec jurist.” And it was, I suppose, inevitable that, after appearing in that opinion, even if it was mostly between the lines, it would feature in this case. Still, it was remarkable how prominent it was, and how strong the emotions it aroused were.

The parties claiming that Justice Mainville’s appointment was unconstitutional argued that a lawyer could only remain steeped in Québec’s “social values” and be an effective representative of Québec’s legal tradition if he or she remained a member of the Québec bar or its bench. Québec’s lawyer, Francis Demers, emphasized the importance of the judges’ representative functions, warning of judges who have, in the past, been tempted to introduce common law concepts into Québec’s civil law. Questioned during his reply, he would not even grant that one of the Supreme Court’s Québec judges could be appointed to the Québec Court of Appeal if he or she so chose. Rocco Galati compared the potential appointment of a federal court judge to a Québec court to “a drop of cyanide” that would poison Québec’s legal tradition, and warned that if one such judge could be appointed, more could follow, since “there is no shortage of them.” Paul Slansky, for the Centre for Constitutional Rights, insisted that Québeckers cannot have confidence in a judge who served on one of the federal courts, in the same way as, in the first half of the 19th century, they could not have confidence in British judges appointed to serve in the courts of a province about which they knew nothing. Even though the judges of the federal courts also apply Québec’s law, he said, they do so in the name of Canada, not Québec, and people, “separatists” especially, could take it badly should one of them be appointed to the Court of Appeal.

The parties arguing that Justice Mainville’s appointment is constitutional, by contrast, advocated a much broader vision. The pool of potential judges must be enlarged, not restricted. Federal institutions apply Québec’s law and are themselves part of Québec’s legal system. Provided that one has been a member of the Québec Bar at some point, one does not cease being a Québecker by working there. Are the judges appointed to represent Québec on the federal courts, as Justice Mainville was, or indeed on the Supreme Court, no longer members of Québec’s legal community? If the Court were to so conclude, both the federal government and Sébastien Grammond, on behalf of the Canadian Association of Provincial Court Judges, warned, attempts to weed out those deemed insufficiently good Québeckers would not end with the exclusion of federal court judges.

For its part, the Court was very skeptical of the idea that a Québecker ceased being enough of a Québec lawyer after a passage, however brief, at the Federal Court. One of the first questions to Mr. Demers was whether Justice Mainville’s 33 years of practice at the bar were “wiped out” (lessivé). Mr. Slansky’s comparison of Justice Mainville’s appointment to that of British judges was “a bit apocalyptic,” one of the judges suggested; indeed, it was difficult to think that Québeckers would be offended by it. The Court seemed to accept the federal government’s contention that s. 98 was intended to prevent the appointment of lawyers from other provinces, but did not exclude those Québec lawyers who had subsequently worked outside of the province. The experience of a Québec lawyer, once acquired, could not be erased, it suggested.

As for myself, I am of course on the side of those defending the constitutionality of Justice Mainville’s appointment. The implication of l’Affaire Nadon that the judges of the federal courts are somehow out of touch with Québec, when they live across the river from it and constantly hear cases there is unfortunate, and it should not be extended beyond any more than it must. Prof. Grammond was right to speak of a crispation identitaire on the part of those claiming that jurists exposed to the purportedly nefarious influence of federal law without the allegedly magical shield provided by continued membership in the Québec Bar will lose touch with Québec. Such a crispation is only par for the course, I suppose, for a government committed, whatever political party controls it, to using nationalist ideology to maximize its own powers. But I must say there was something unseemly about a pair of Toronto lawyers making the same sort of arguments ― in English! ― and effectively telling Québeckers how best to protect their culture and legal tradition. They are, I am sure, well-intentioned gentlemen, but despite their good intentions, the effect of their position is to confine Québeckers to their own province, and prevent them from making Canada as a whole their country ― in exact accordance with the wishes of the separatists for whose feelings Mr. Slansky expressed such concern.


This brings me to the final theme I want to discuss ― this notion of public “confidence” in the courts, which is supposedly at risk of being undermined by the appointment of judges said to be out of tune with Québec’s “social values.” Regrettably, nobody challenged it at the hearing. Let me do so here.

The claim that public confidence in Québec’s judiciary depends on none of its members having served on the federal courts prior to his or her appointment is simply bogus. The public is abysmally ignorant even of basic facts about society and electoral politics ― everywhere, not just in Québec. The level of public ignorance about the legal system is no less appalling. Don’t take my word for it ― take the Court of Appeal’s. In a judgment delivered the same day the Mainville reference was heard, R. c. Turcotte, 2014 QCCA 2190, the Court had the following to say about a a collection of press articles concerning the case, one of the most heavily mediatized in Québec in recent years, which according to the Crown “expressed the opinion of an informed public” [67]:

We find there a variety of opinions, more or less nuanced, more or less objective, more or less measured, more or less superficial. Many provide inexact facts, or do not supply crucial ones. Most are silent about the legal principles that are essential to making a decision [in such a case]. Some opinions inflame anger and distort the debate. Few faithfully relate the facts and correctly set out the applicable principles. Overall, one must conclude that they do not meet the criterion of the reasonable person set out in the case law. [68]

Or, if you don’t believe the Court’s assessment of the ignorance of the supposedly “informed public” about the the legal system, just ask yourself a couple of questions. How many members of the public could name any judges on the Québec Court of Appeal? How many lawyers, even, know the biographies of more than a few? (Heck, I probably don’t… ) All this to say, that the public won’t even be aware of Justice Mainville’s existence and appointment to the Court of Appeal, never mind the fact that, prior to that appointment, he served on the Federal Court of Appeal. It stands to reason that their confidence, such as it is, in the Court or in the judicial system more broadly cannot be affected by something they don’t know.

Admittedly this is a guess. I am not knowledgeable about the empirical research on this topic in Canada, if there is any, and the American surveys I have seen only address the public’s confidence in the U.S. Supreme Court ― not the Courts of Appeals. (Though that might itself be an indication ― the Supreme Court at least registers on the public’s radar screen; lower courts, not so much.) But it is perhaps useful to have a quick look at a different area ― that of election law. Courts, both in the U.S. and in Canada, have uncritically accepted the claim that the imposition of voter identification requirements contributes to public confidence in the integrity of the electoral process by helping to counter perceptions about the existence of voter fraud. This seems like a plausible enough inference ― but an analysis of the survey evidence on voter perceptions of the prevalence of fraud has shown that they are not correlated with the strictness of the identification requirements in place!


Difficult to assess, “soft” considerations such as what it means to be a Québec jurist or public confidence in the courts should not be decisive in any legal case. They certainly need not be decisive in the Mainville reference. To the extent that the Court of Appeal does consider them, however, ― and it will inevitably have at least the former on its collective mind, as it was much discussed at oral argument ― they are not obstacles to its holding that Justice Mainville’s appointment is constitutional. On the contrary, they support this conclusion ― which is also the one that is correct as a matter of constitutional law. At the hearing, the Court of Appeal seemed inclined towards that conclusion. There is no reason why it should change its mind.

The Mainville Hearing: Interpretive Issues

On Wednesday, I was at the Québec Court of Appeal as it heard the oral arguments in the reference on the constitutionality of Justice Mainville’s appointment. The Québec government, supported by Rocco Galati (a Toronto lawyer who had originally challenged Justice Mainville’s appointment before the federal court) and the Constitutional Rights Centre Inc. (a public interest litigation outfit), argued that s. 98 of the Constitution Act, 1867, which provides that “[t]he Judges of the Courts of Quebec shall be selected from the Bar of that Province” prohibited the appointment. Although Justice Mainville had been a Québec lawyer for 33 years, he was then appointed to the Federal Court of Canada, and subsequently to the Federal Court of Appeal. This, they said, means that he is no longer “from the bar of” Québec and thus ineligible. The federal government, supported by the Canadian Association of the Provincial Court Judges and the Grand Counsil of the Crees, contended that, having been a member of the Québec bar in the past, Justice Mainville satisfied the s. 98 criterion.

This blog has already hosted something of a mini-debate on the constitutionality of Justice Mainville’s appointment, with my friend Maxime St-Hilaire arguing against it, and me arguing that the appointment is indeed constitutional. Many of the arguments heard on Wednesday echo those prof. St-Hilaire and I made in these posts. It was a long day, too, and it would not be all that useful to produce a detailed report of everything that was said. Instead, I will structure my report by talking of a few themes that were raised, more or less directly, in the argument, and also one that wasn’t, but perhaps should have been ― or at least, should feature in the Court’s thinking.

Also, in the interests of readability, I will split the report in two. In this post, I will address the issues having to do with the authorities which the Court of Appeal will need to interpret to answer the question before it. In the next post, I will take on the issues that go beyond interpretation.


The first theme I want to talk about is constitutional interpretation. That’s a dangerous subject that fascinates constitutional law nerds (such as yours truly) too much, and which, in the United States, causes a lot of energy to be wasted on debates on which little may turn. (For a withering ― and entertaining ― criticism of the state of this debate, have a look at Richard Posner’s recent book Reflections on Judging.) In Canada, we have been largely free of this debate, at least in the courts. Charter cases, which is where most of the action in constitutional law has been for the last 30 years, barely even refer to the constitutional text. The occasional federalism cases courts decide mostly concern the development of judicial doctrines. But in the last couple of years, constitutional interpretation has come back ― in l’Affaire Nadon, 2014 SCC 21, [2014] 1 S.C.R. 433 (statutory when it started, but constitutional by the time the Supreme Court was done with it!), Reference re Senate Reform, 2014 SCC 32, [2014] 1 S.C.R. 704, and now in the Mainville reference. Unfortunately, the lack of both practice and theory means that we don’t really know what to do about it.

Although all the parties declared themselves, to various extents, proponents of purposive interpretation, those arguing against the constitutionality of Justice Mainville’s appointment favoured a rather originalist approach, as Québec had already done in the argument for the Senate Reform reference. (Indeed, Québec started its reply with the suggestion that we “go back to 1867.”) They argued that the bargain struck at confederation was absolutely and unconditionally binding, and the preoccupations that of the people who struck that bargain were the key to interpreting the text in which they enshrined it, and devoting much attention to the 92 Resolutions and to Sir Hector-Louis Langevin’s debates with Antoine-Aimé Dorion. (We might chuckle at Americans obsessing about the writings of James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, but we no longer have any right to do so, if we ever did. And at least, Madison and Hamilton are rather more inspirational figures than Langevin and Dorion.) And each of the parties denying the constitutionality of Justice Mainville’s appointment warned the Court about the danger of “living tree” constitutionalism, with Mr. Galati going so far as to say that it was inappropriate in non-Charter cases.

Their opponents, by contrast, embraced the “living constitutionalist’ approach, pointing out the changes in the organization of the bar and judicial institutions since Confederation, and saying that s. 98 must be read in such a way as to achieve its purposes within today’s context. Yet the federal government, at least, supplement its argument with heavy doses of originalism.

The Court, for its part, seemed unwilling fully to follow Québec down the originalist path ― and adopt what one of the judges described as “interpretation fixing the law in 1867.” The court systems of 2014 and 1867, the Court suggested, were “two worlds,” making an “evolutive” interpretation necessary.  It also seemed reluctant to make too much of s. 94 of the Constitution Act, 1867, which in theory allows common-law provinces ― but not Québec ― to “make uniform” their private law, and which in the view of those opposed to the constitutionality of Justice Mainville’s appointment is evidence that Québec’s legal specificity must receive greater protection than that of the other provinces.

One thing that could not be done, everyone agreed, was to read s. 98 literally, so that “from the bar” really means “from the bar.” Under that reading, judges could not even be promoted from the Superior Court to the Court of Appeal (as four of the five members of Wednesday’s panel were), and this was too much even for Mr. Galati, despite his obvious enjoyment at posing as the man who would do justice though the sky fall.

Beyond that, the best suggestion on interpretation came, in my view, from Sébastien Grammond, who represented the Provincial Judges (and whose arguments in both l’Affaire Nadon and the Senate Reference I had also found very thoughtful and compelling). Prof. Grammond pointed out that, in the absence of a tradition of judicial interpretation of s. 98, and with the legislative texts implementing it themselves not paragons of clarity, we cannot very well understand the nuances of the meaning of the constitutional language. In such circumstances, originalist interpretation risks leading us astray. And as for the claim that the “living tree” approach is only suited for Charter cases, those who would defend it should recall that the the “Persons Case,” Edwards v. Canada (Attorney General), [1930] A.C. 124, from which that metaphor originates, was not a Charter case at all.


In addition to interpreting s. 98 of the Constitution Act, 1867, the Court also has to interpret a much more recent text ― the Supreme Court majority’s opinion in l’Affaire Nadon. The questions about it concern both its specific ratio ― the true grounds for the opinion ― and thus the extent to which it governs the Mainville reference, and also its broader implications.

The parties arguing that Justice Mainville’s appointment is unconstitutional argued that the Nadon reference stood for the proposition that the phrase “from among the advocates of [Québec]” in s. 6 of the Supreme Court Act included only current, but not former, members of the bar because the currency of bar membership was necessary to provide Québeckers with the assurance that judges appointed to Québec seats would share their “social values,” in addition to being qualified in Québec’s civil law. In their view, the phrase “from the Bar of that [Québec]” in s. 98 was effectively identical to that used in s. 6 of the Supreme Court Act, and had also to be interpreted as including a requirement of current membership ― albeit not in the Québec bar, but rather in Québec’s bar or courts. The contrary interpretation, they said, would fail to provide Québeckers with the assurance that their judges would be in sync with their legal tradition and values.

Those defending the constitutionality of Justice Mainville’s appointment, by contrast, said that the Nadon majority’s comments about assurances and values were not dispositive, and that the textual and contextual differences between the two cases meant that l’Affaire Nadon is not binding. In particular, they pointed to the fact that s. 6 specifically named two courts the judges of which could be appointed to the Supreme Court ― by implication preventing the appointment of the judges of other courts ― and emphasized the absence of analogous wording from s. 98.

The Court seemed to share these views, suggesting that the Nadon majority’s opinion rested on a “en effort of very careful exegesis” of ss. 5 and 6 of the Supreme Court Act. It was one of the judges who suggested that the Nadon majority’s comments regards Québec’s “social values” were in obiter, on which those who defended the constitutionality of Justice Mainville’s appointment eagerly seized. And during Québec’s reply, the Court quite clear took the view that the Nadon majority’s opinion was based on the rule inclusio unius est exclusio alterius.

Beyond the problem of figuring out the specific ratio the majority opinion in l’Affaire Nadon, there was also that of its broader import. Québec argued that it was a positive decision, enshrining a “generous” interpretation of a fundamental constitutional compromise. The federal government, by contrast argued that, although dictated by statutory text, the outcome of l’Affaire Nadon was nothing to celebrate, and certainly not “generous,” and that if the Court of Appeal could avoid extending it, it should by all means do so.

When l’Affaire Nadon was decided, I thought that the majority’s comments about the importance of Québec judges on the Supreme Court being seen as representing Québec’s “social values” was crucial to its opinion. I still don’t think that they can really be characterized as obiter dicta. At the same time, they weren’t all there was to that opinion, which also put considerable weight on what it took to be the “plain meaning” of s. 6 as excluding former lawyers. As the federal government and others pointed out, nobody is arguing that the same “plain meaning” considerations apply here. Ultimately, I think that the best characterization of the majority opinion in l’Affaire Nadon is one also suggested by the federal government ― it stands for the proposition that the specific wording of s. 6 reasonably advances its values-representation purpose (and must therefore be given full effect), although it is not the only way to achieve it. Since s. 98 is drafted differently from s. 6, it is possible to see it as implementing a similar purpose in a different way, and even the Supreme Court’s values talk is not a mere obiter, it does not dictate the outcome of the Mainville reference.

As for the broader significance of l’Affaire Nadon, I remain of the view it is not a good thing for Québec. Limiting the paths open to Québec’s jurists is not, it seems to me, a “generous” thing to do ― especially when the same limitations are not imposed on their counterparts from other provinces. But this point leads me to a theme I want to discuss, in my next post  ― identity.

L’Affaire Mainville: The Québec Factum

Some serious flaws in Québec’s arguments against the constitutionality of Justice Mainville’s appointment to the Québec Court of Appeal.

As promised, here are some thoughts on Québec’s factum in the Mainville reference, in which it argues that judges of the federal courts cannot be appointed to Québec’s Superior Court or Court of Appeal. Such appointments, in Québec’s view, would contravene s. 98 of the Constitution Act, 1867, which provides that “[t]he Judges of the Courts of Quebec shall be selected from the Bar of that Province.” Québec’s position is that, while the words “from the Bar of [Québec]” are not meant to be read literally (as applying only to active members of the bar), they encompass current lawyers and former lawyers who are now judges on Québec’s ― but not federal ― courts. In my view, this position is untenable. I have already set out my general argument in support of the constitutionality of appointing former members of the Québec bar who have become judges on federal courts, such as Justice Mainville here. In this post, I will focus on what I see as some of the key weaknesses of Québec’s argument to the contrary.

One weakness of the Québec factum is that it decontextualizes its historical arguments relative to the function of s. 98 as a protection of Québec’s distinct civil law system. It does so, first, by insisting that s. 98 is fundamentally different from s. 97, which provides ― on its face anyway ― the exact same guarantee to common law provinces, stating that “the Judges of the Courts of those Provinces appointed by the Governor General shall be selected from the respective Bars of those Provinces.” Indeed s. 98 is arguably somewhat dependent on s. 97 in that it omits the words “appointed by the Governor General” ― yet Québec agrees with the federal government (quite rightly, in my view) that they must, in effect, be read into s. 98. The other difference between these two provisions, which Québec stresses, is that s. 97 is said to apply only until the civil law and procedure of the common law provinces has been “made uniform” (pursuant s. 94 of the Constitution Act, 1867). Québec claims that this means that while s. 98 is “a fundamental guarantee for Québec,” s. 97 is merely “an element of transitional law” (par. 73; translation mine). But of course, whatever, the expectations that might have existed in 1867, the civil law and procedure of the common law provinces was never “made uniform” (as Québec acknowledges); indeed, so far as I know, no attempts at unification were ever made. Section 94 gave the provinces the choice to unify their law or not, and s. 97 ensured that until they chose unification, their judges would be versed in their law. Thus s. 97 is no less a fundamental guarantee for the common law provinces than s. 98 for Québec.

The other element of context which Québec conveniently ignores is that federal courts simply did not exist in 1867. Before 1867, and for some time thereafter, it was true that the only people who were trained in Québec’s civil law were the members of the Québec bar and the judges of its courts. To respect the “fundamental guarantee” of civilian judges on Québec courts, only such people could be appointed. The federal courts ― the Exchequer Court and the Supreme Court ― came into existence only in 1875. Québec itself says that the framers of the Constitution Act, 1867 were concerned not to freeze the court system as it existed then by enumerating courts in the constitution. To say that the 1867 constitutional bargain did not allow the appointment of federal court judges to Québec courts is to say nothing at all, because there were no federal judges back then.

This leads me to the second flaw I see in Québec’s argument, which is that it presents the federal court as something alien to Québec, its law, and its legal culture. Some former members of the Québec bar, it contends, can be appointed pursuant to s. 98 ― those, that is, who “have retained a continuous, tangible, and concrete relationship with Québec’s legal milieu” (par. 92). That’s a plausible-sounding test, albeit a rather vague one. But Québec asserts that “only the members of Québec’s courts who have been appointed to the bench because they were, prior to their appointment, members of the Québec bar, retain such relationship” (par. 92). Why only “Québec’s courts”? It’s worth recalling ― though Québec’s factum ignores this too ― that all the federal courts have seats reserved for judges “appointed to the bench because they were, prior to their appointment, members of the Québec bar.” Justice Mainville was such a judge. But federal courts, Québec suggests, are not really civilian courts, because they apply neither “civil law” in its narrowest sense nor Québec’s legislation inspired by the civilian tradition. But,  as the federal government points out in its factum, federal law is inspired by the civil law tradition as much as by the common law. And if it is not, then the judges of the Criminal and Penal Division of the Court of Québec should also be ineligible for appointment under s. 98, since they, even more than the judges of the federal courts, spend their time applying federal law and it alone. Besides, as the Federal government cogently points out in its reply factum (at par. 14), many judges of the Federal Court have in fact made ― and have been recognized as having made ― outstanding contributions to Québec’s law and legal culture.

Québec’s position is thus inconsistent. Indeed, one wonders whether it is not the result of an attempt to manufacture a constitutional theory that fits a politically pre-determined result. Consider, in conclusion, the following hypothetical. Suppose that Justice Wagner decides, in a few years, that he wants to pull a Lord Denning and to come back to the Québec Court of Appeal. Unlikely, of course, but the precedent is there. (Indeed, Chief Justice McLachlin did something similar too, briefly, going from the the BC Court of Appeal back down to the (trial) Supreme Court, as Chief Justice, before her appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada.) Under Québec’s interpretation of s. 98, he couldn’t do it, since he is no longer a member of the Québec bar, nor at this point, a judge of one of Québec’s courts. On this view, by going off to represent Québec’s law and social values at the Supreme Court, he has severed the relationship to its legal milieu necessary to authorize his appointment to one of its superior courts. How does that make sense? It would be interesting to see Québec’s lawyers answer that one… especially in front of Justice Wagner himself, if the matter goes to the Supreme Court.